Depending on the student and his or her goals, different levels of general education are possible. These include a basic grounding for all higher education students, whatever type of institution they attend or course they study, a discrete and substantial component of general education, which helps broaden the experience of students engaged in specialist, professional, or technical study; and an intensive general education curriculum that provides exceptionally promising, intellectually oriented students with a solid basis for their careers or for advanced specialist study.
Within a differentiated higher education system, the more intensive programs will almost certainly be offered at the most selective universities, with the majority of professional, scientific, and technical courses remaining more narrowly focused. Selective universities prepare many of those who aspire to leadership roles, and for them a preparation for only the initial stages of a career is no longer sufficient. Path-finding individuals must update and acquire new, and often very different, skills.
General education is ideally suited to this process of lifelong learning, providing the cognitive orientation and skills needed to facilitate continual re-education. However, general education should not be confined to a few traditional universities. The capacity for lifelong learning is increasingly important for the many people who face major career shifts. Mature students, for instance, often return to education with a determination to change the direction of their lives. Many look for study opportunities outside the traditional university system, for example, through distance learning. As noted earlier, women also commonly leave the labor force because of family obligations. Flexibility and the ability to learn new skills have a significant impact on how successfully they return, often after a decade or more.
Increasing the supply of general education can also help in promoting the social equity and mobility. As higher education systems will expand they must become more tolerant at entry points. And will ensure that quality at the exit point is maintained.